Lifting the covers on safe and authentic onscreen sex – TBI Vision
TBI Associate Editor-in-Chief Mark Layton chats with Intimacy Coordinator Vanessa Coffey about the industry’s emerging role in helping actors set personal boundaries and deliver more authentic performances in sexually-oriented scenes .
The #MeToo movement in 2017 brought about changes in the way productions shot intimate and sexual scenes. The days when actors were asked to act at will were numbered and instead intimacy coordinators appeared within the industry.
“When there is sexual activity or nudity, a production will use an intimacy coordinator,” says Vanessa Coffey, the first person in Scotland to be employed in this still relatively emerging role.
People learn in drama school to walk or speak as a character, but very rarely are they asked how this character has sex – how does this character kiss?
The work doesn’t just cover simulated sex scenes, she says, but rather many aspects of intimacy and physical closeness.
“So being in someone else’s space or kissing; it might even be for a very young person sitting in someone’s lap. You want to make sure that you have consent for all of these situations and that everyone understands what’s going to happen, rather than just assuming that people are doing it and that they are okay with it.
Ultimately, the intimate scenes are as much about storytelling as anyone else, Coffey explains. “It’s about figuring out what this particular moment means for the characters. I think it’s something that’s been kind of left out until now.
“People will learn in drama school how to walk as a character, how to speak as a character, what they look like under different given circumstances. They do all this wonderful work, but very rarely are they asked how this character has sex; how does this character kiss? “
In Coffey’s experience, when an actor arrives at these times without input from an intimacy coordinator, “they immediately come back to what they would be doing, because they don’t approach it through the character, that is. that they do with all the other scenes. . “
First kisses & young actors
Originally from Sydney, Australia, but now living in Glasgow, Coffey was a corporate lawyer, who turned into an actress, which she describes as her ‘passion’. She started teaching at the Royal Scottish Conservatory of Scotland, so she fell into the coordination of intimacy.
Coffey was approached by a college student because of her legal background, to review a contract after she was asked to appear nude in a production. Similar requests from other students soon followed and Coffey eventually found herself on set: “I came across this term ‘intimacy coordinator’ once I had done the job of an intimacy coordinator. She laughs.
“It’s something that really excites me. I loved the creative elements of being an actor, but I also missed advocacy a lot and that brought it all together for me. “
Coffey has worked on several high-end scripted productions, including I hate Suzie for Ciel, War of the Worlds for the BBC and Netflix Destiny: The Winx Saga, who debuts on the streamer today.
“This particular program was so actor-friendly and really took everything to the next level in terms of safety for them,” Coffey said of the young adult fantasy drama, joking that she doesn’t get paid for. his praise.
“At Winx, we were working with very young actors, some of whom had never had a kiss on screen before. So we discussed, how long should this kiss last, do we use tongues to kiss it, what is happening with people’s bodies, hands, where is it ok to touch and not allowed and really map that.
“I approached it exactly the same way I would with a sex scene,” reveals Coffey, who coordinated with two directors on two different filming blocks to help them realize their vision while answering questions and concerns of interpreters.
“I had to rehearse with the actors and with the director on a closed set before shooting anything. I mean, this is the first time I’ve worked on a closed set where we talk about a kiss; it also meant that there wasn’t that pressure of having 50 people around while you were trying to shoot something very intimate.
#MeToo and its implications
It’s hard to underestimate the importance of the #MeToo movement and the widespread exposure it has gained following the sexual abuse allegations made against film producer Harvey Weinstein in 2017, sparking a revolution in the way intimate scenes are filmed.
“These conversations, in my experience, hadn’t happened at all before 2017; we didn’t ask the actors what they were comfortable with, ”Coffey says. “A lot of directors would say, ‘let’s just see what happens.’ That was sort of the standard quote.
With actors on their own the results could be mixed at times, on one end of the spectrum “there was obviously the possibility that the limits were being crossed,” Coffey says, while at the other was the risk “frankly. let it be a somewhat terrible scene.
There is now clear progress in this area, explains Coffey: “I have noticed that people are now much more comfortable having the conversation.
Before 2017, we didn’t ask actors what they were comfortable with. A lot of directors would say “let’s see what happens”
“I think people are a lot more concerned with whether or not they should bring in a privacy coordinator in something and they see us less as the police of an intimate scene.”
Coffey says this change was clearly long overdue: “We’ve always had this stunt coordinating role. So as soon as someone walks towards someone else with a knife or with their fists, there has always been a choreography for that.
“We didn’t expect actors to just ‘go for it’, but we expected them to do it with privacy, without literally understanding where people’s hands, mouths and other body parts go. . “
Protected sex during the Covid
You might be surprised to learn that Covid didn’t have as big an impact on actors filming up close and personal scenes as you might expect, at least not in Coffey’s experience.
“On two of the productions I worked on during Covid, there were very good protocols in place. So test every day, on one of the productions three times before even being allowed on the set; masks, washing your hands several times a day, bubbling in the cast and crew, all the usual things to try to keep your distance. “
She adds: “In fact, you feel pretty safe, to have characters kissing or being intimate in these moments, obviously if those actors feel comfortable doing these scenes.
“I think protecting actors during Covid is also going to their sanity, so I went out with the actor I work with, stood three meters away and took off my mask to say this is who I am. am, that’s who’s going to talk to you when we’re together in this room, so i’m not just that faceless individual.
While the importance of the role is clear, Coffey and most of the intimacy coordinators she knows are employed as freelancers. One exception is Alicia Rodis, who was recruited internally at HBO in the United States.
“They decided they would have privacy coordinators on all of their productions. I think that’s going to be something that venues start to deliver, ”said Coffey, who adds that she“ would like ”other studios to follow suit.
“Right now there are only about 25 of us working across the UK so it also takes a lot of work to bring new people into this industry to make sure we have enough to support all of these productions that have privacy on them. “